In this issue of Almanac Weekly and elsewhere you’ll be hearing a lot this week about the global One Billion Rising movement to resist violence against women – and in particular about events being organized locally to take place on V-Day, as activist playwright Eve Ensler rechristened Valentine’s Day 16 years ago. One of the mid-Hudson’s One Billion Rising flagship events takes place in Uptown Kingston at 9:30 a.m. this Friday, February 14, and it’s a great way to kick off the day’s activities. At Bethany Hall in the Old Dutch Church on Wall Street, singer Natalie Merchant will introduce the premiere public screening of Shelter: A Concert Film to Benefit Victims of Domestic Violence.
Part concert film, part consciousness-raising tool, the documentary centers on a June 2, 2013 benefit concert for local women’s shelters that Merchant organized after being inspired by her participation in the first annual One Billion Rising commemoration last February. Beautifully shot, lit and recorded at Bard College’s Fisher Center, the “Shelter” concert featured the Kalmia String Quartet, Simi Stone, Yungchen Lhamo and Amy Helm in addition to Merchant. In between the performances, survivors of domestic violence and relatives of victims told their personal stories – some bone-chilling, some heartening. The documentary develops these themes with cutaway interviews with local experts that provide sobering data about the magnitude of the problem in our own communities.
About 35 minutes in length, Shelter builds gradually, opening with a heartfelt duet by Merchant and Stone that casts a sinister new light on the lyrics of the traditional ballad “Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies.” That performance segues into a stirring account by survivor Gwen Wright of how she was able to escape her abusive husband thanks to the Washbourne House, Family of Woodstock’s Ulster County domestic violence shelter.
Wright, we discover, was one of the relatively lucky ones. Kathy Welby-Moretti, director of the Washbourne House, and Renee Fillette, executive director of the Grace Smith House in Dutchess County, talk about the factors that make it so hard for battered spouses and children to leave living situations that, from an outsider’s perspective, seem utterly unbearable. They cite the names and circumstances of real women who died at the hands of their domestic partners in recent years, in our own communities. Teresa Letterio of Saugerties brings those statistics to wrenching life as she tells the story of the murder of her aunt, Tracey Lee Ingrassia-Passaro, by her husband – in front of their two children – in 2007.
Though interspersed with lovely, uplifting musical interludes, these grim personal accounts aren’t easy to listen to. But they need to be heard, because behind the closed doors of seemingly tranquil homes in our own neighborhoods, such scenarios are being played out every day. The good news is that there are practical actions that can be taken to reduce the suffering, and there appears to be growing political will these days to do something about the worldwide epidemic of violence against women.
In fact, this Friday’s screening of Shelter will be followed by a panel discussion with Elizabeth A. Culmone, senior assistant district attorney for Ulster County’s Special Victims’ Bureau, and Marjorie Smith, assistant district attorney and bureau chief for Dutchess County’s Special Victim’s Bureau – both of whom appear in the film – along with New York State senators Cecilia Tkaczyk and Terry Gipson, Ulster County executive Michael Hein and Dutchess County executive Marc Molinaro. Many civic leaders are also expected to attend and join the high-level discussion.
“The purpose of our panel is to see where we’ve come since One Billion Rising 2013 and where we are going. It’s also to have lawmakers accept accountability. We’re very excited to have lawmakers from both Ulster and Dutchess Counties involved,” said Jillian Fisher, Tourism and Cultural Affairs coordinator for the City of Kingston, who is promoting the event. “This is really a big deal.”
Admission to the film premiere and panel discussion is free, with seating on a first-come, first-served basis. The Old Dutch Church is located at 272 Wall Street in Uptown Kingston. Parking space nearby is scarce, so come early if you can. And if you didn’t get enough sleep the night before, you can console yourself with the thought that you’re one amongst the One Billion Rising on behalf of battered women that day. What better way, on Valentine’s Day, to have a heart?
Shelter: A Concert Film to Benefit Victims of Domestic Violence premiere & panel discussion, Friday, February 14, 9:30 a.m., free, Bethany Hall, Old Dutch Church, 272 Wall Street, Kingston; (845) 383-1361.